Most people who do any sort of cooking find themselves using garlic in generous quantities. Or perhaps that’s just me. I tend to add it by the spoon full to soups, stuffed mushrooms, pot roasts, stir fries and almost anything that isn’t supposed to be a dessert. Garlic also has a lot of health benefits. It also grows in the winter when little else is interested in making an appearance. Besides, this plant is suitable for even the most lackadaisical gardeners because it practically grows itself. All gardeners really need are some deep buckets and enough cloves to go in each one.
Garlic heads can be purchased at local garden stores or from a number of reputable companies online. I got mine from Filaree Farms about 2 years ago and have been fairly happy with it. While there are indeed some people that have had success in growing cloves from the grocery store, using them may not be the best option. Such produce tends to be sprayed with chemicals to keep it from sprouting. Even if you opt for plants labeled organic to avoid that problem, the garlic sold in the store might not be suitable for your climate. After all, hardneck varieties are recommended for the Northern portions of the country and softneck garlics are recommended for the South. While that’s the most important thing for gardeners to keep in mind, this article from Mother Earth News goes into more detail on the differences between the two types.
Once you’ve obtained the garlic heads, break them apart and let them dry out for a few weeks. The smaller cloves should be chopped up and eaten as a tasty reward for all your hard work, because only the largest cloves should be planted. They should be buried a few inches below the soil surface with the pointed end facing up. Be sure to get your garlic planted before the ground freezes solid in your area. Where I live, that’s usually about mid-November but I always wait for a warm day near the end of the month to undertake this task. I probably could plant my garlic plants even later than that but then they wouldn’t be ready to harvest by the time the tomatoes need transplanting. I’m nothing if not the master of the perpetually rotating bucket brigade.
These buckets typically hold two or three fully grown garlic plants, but I also use smaller containers as they become available in the yard. However, most large size containers can only support one full sized garlic plant and smaller planters are only suitable for growing green garlic because there usually isn’t enough space for the plant to produce a bulb.
Care & Harvest
Low maintenance is the Allium family’s catchphrase. These vegetables don’t suffer from many pests or diseases. In fact, the only regular care that garlics need is an occasional watering when it hasn’t rained in a few weeks. This is especially nice during periods of chilly winter weather. I personally prefer to be soaking up the warmth from my space heater and sipping on hot chocolate rather than roaming around the yard at such times.
Around midsummer, the garlic stalks turn brown and flop over. Don’t panic, think that they are dying, and dump a ton of water on them in a mistaken effort to save their lives. I did but that probably had something to do with why a few of the heads that I’d saved didn’t make it to the next season’s planting time. Damp garlic just doesn’t keep well. Therefore, you’ll want to wait for a week with dry, sunny weather to dig it up.
A common theory states that gardeners should leave the garlic stems on the plants so that they will keep longer. It’s also true that the heads I saved with their stems on didn’t rot and those with removed stems got moldy prior to planting time. I’m still not sure if this bit folklore is 100% accurate, but it couldn’t hurt to try. Besides, braiding garlic stems together and then hanging the bunch up is a good way to store them.
Ideally, the heads should be stored in a pantry but not everyone has those in their home. I personally keep the majority of my garlic in a well-ventilated and shady spot on my porch. Whichever clove I’m in the process of using goes on my kitchen windowsill. I’m not saying this method will work for everyone but, since my apartment stays about as damp as a sponge, a little bit of sunlight goes a ways in staving off mold. Just don’t keep the garlic heads in your clothes closet until you decide to use them. Although the storage conditions in there might be perfect, you definitely don’t want to go about smelling like total garlic head!